As PB continues to evaluate the Horns' performance last Saturday, I will begin a closer look at Ohio State. Obviously, the Buckeyes will come into Austin ranked #1 in the country but let's take a look at how they got there by exploring both last year and last week.
The Buckeyes entered the season ranked in the top 10 with legitimate national championship expectations. Their defense was expected to be among the best, if not the best, in the country, led by Cereberus: AJ Hawk, Bobby Carpenter, and Anthony Schlegel. They weren't too shabby: all three were drafted in the first three rounds of the NFL draft at season's end. The offense had considerable talent to work with, as well. Sntonio Holmes and Ted Ginn both possessed blazing speed and NFL skills at wide receiver, while Antonio Pittman was expected to churn out 100+ yards per contest from his tailback spot.
But the offense was going to revolve around the tremendous playmaking capabilities of quarterback Troy Smith. Smith prefers to beat you with his arm, especially downfield, but can also burn you with his feet. Basically, the offense was going to put up loads of points and the defense was going to let opponents sniff the end zone. A second national championship in four years seemed attainable for the 2005 Ohio State Buckeyes.
After cruising past Miami (Ohio) 34-14, the Longhorns rolled into Columbus on Sept. 10th. Depending on who you ask, either the better team won, or the failed two quarterback experiment cost the scarlet and grey a shot at a national championship. Either way, OSU was now 1-1 after falling in front of 105,000 plus. The Buckeyes got things back together quickly, though, by beating San Diego State and #21 Iowa in successive weeks. After a week off, the Buckeyes traveled to Happy Valley. There 100,000 Penn State students and fans dressed mostly in white produced one of the coolest and most difficult to play in environments I have ever seen in college football. The Buckeyes fell 17-10, in what would be their final loss of the season. OSU reeled off six straight wins to finish the season 9-2 overall and 7-1 in the Big Ten and were rewarded with a much deserved at large berth to the Fiesta Bowl.
Anyone who watched college football closely last season knew that OSU and Notre Dame were in different classes. OSU had losses to two other BCS participants and was loaded with talent on both sides of the ball. Notre Dame was there because of name, history, TV draw, and a close loss to Southern Cal. The Golden Domers had talent on offense but also had one of the worst defenses in the country that was exploited time and time again by Smith, Holmes, Ginn, and co. Final result: 34-20 OSU (it wasn't that close).
2006: Northern Illinois
That brings us to this season's opener last week at home against a decent Northern Illinois team. Give credit to Coach Tressel and to OSU: while there may be two MAC teams on their schedule, there is no Div I-AA patsy, or even a team as bad as Rice or SMU.
I wanted to get home in time to watch some of the OSU / NIU game but it was well out of hand before I even got to my car after the North Texas game. The Buckeyes scored touchdowns on their first four possessions. It was 21-0 at the end of the first quarter and 28-3 at halftime. The quick strike OSU offense scored four times in their first 17 plays. They only punted once all game, and that wasn't until the third quarter. OSU lost some focus in the second half (fumbling twice inside the NIU 10 yard line) but still won handily, 35-12.
Troy Smith finished 18/25 for 297 yards and three touchdowns. After Brady Quinn's mediocre performance in Atlanta, Smith should be considered the Heisman frontrunner after week one. Ted Ginn Jr. was also sharp, snagging four balls - including two touchdowns - for 123 total yards. The OSU ground game was equally impressive. Antonio Pittman ran for 111 yards on 19 carries. Uber recruit and true freshman beast Chris Wells added 50 yards on just ten carries.
Not all was well in Columbus, though. The defense is trying to replace nine starters from a year ago and it showed. Northern Illinois had 343 total yards including 151 on the ground. Stud running back Garrett Wolfe accounted for 285 of those yards alone. Wolfe made the OSU run defense look just awful at times. NIU was also successful with screens to the tailbacks. (Greg Davis, were you watching? Screens to backs, not horizontal ones to wide outs.) Wolfe was NIU's leading receiver with 114 yards. If the team defense doesn't vastly improve by Saturday, Jamaal Charles and Selvin Young might gain 200 yards combined.
The OSU special teams also left some Buckeye fans hoping for more. While kickoff and punt returns were fine, the kicking game was suspect. Two different field goal kickers missed attempts. Yes, they were long, but I wouldn't want it to come down to a field goal on Saturday if I was a Buckeye fan.
So, that begins our look at the Ohio State Buckeyes. The offense is still potent but the defense is not there yet. Look for more on their offense, defense, and special teams later this week.